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The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
"The Kite Runner"
In an epic, multi-generational story of a family in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the winter of 1975, kite flying takes on the importance of a national sport. Here, it's not just a matter of getting your kite in the air or showing off its design and coloration -- it's a contest to see who can "cut" the highest number of competitors' strings, causing their craft to come crashing down and remain alone on the field as the last one flying.
Showing superior skill in the control and reading of wind currents is young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) whose win over the town's kite runners couldn't please his Pushtun father Baba (Homayoun Ershadi) more if he were the last Gladiator standing in a den of lions. Which is some compensation for Baba's disappointments over Amir's passive choices in life and his cowardice against bullies. Baba is unimpressed with Amir's penchant to write and tell stories though they are bringing him sprinklings of praise outside the home.
Amir's closest friend is Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada), the son of his wealthy father's old ally and family servant. Hassan doubles as Amir's inseperable companion and servant, all four living in an ultra clean, well-kept compound behind high walls. Hassan, unwaveringly faithful to Amir, is Amir's line spooler when they're engaged in kite flying combat, and his slingshot-armed bodyguard when they're out in the streets. The bond between these 12-year olds is superglued, until an unspeakable act of disgrace and betrayal dissolves it.
The matter of courage and shame is key to the coming-of-age journey that Amir is on. The story of his youth with Hassan is told as a flashback following a call he receives years later from his father's close friend and confidant Rahim Khan (Shaun Toub, "Crash") summoning him to come to Pakistan where Khan, the man who best understood and encouraged him as a youth, has long harbored a family secret. Now, ill and near the end of his life, he feels a special urgency to reveal it to the adult Amir.
At this time in his life, Amir (Khalid Abdalla, "United 93") is married to a Pushtun General's daughter and has just received author's copies of his first published book, presumably the one the film is based on by Kabul native, Khaled Hosseini. (David Benioff, "Troy" wrote the screenplay). Recognizing that the need for his return is greater than a book tour, he goes, and finds himself in Taliban country, disguised behind beard and robe. Kahn's revelation embarks him on a mission of redemption that will call for all the courage his father wanted to see in him.
Sensitively directed by Marc Forster ("Monster's Ball," "Finding Neverland," "Stranger Than Fiction"), in a departure from liberating sexuality and artful surreality, the saga provides an especially good opportunity to see Middle Eastern actors in roles well away from the current standards of villainy. Here, they're in a story of character and emotion universal in its depiction of humanity that, in its thematic construction, gives the impression of a memoire. Its lack of a religious agenda in a middle east context is both refreshing and a noteworthy commitment to the unburdened language of art.
In a finely measured way, Abdalla expresses the self-doubts and internal mortification of a man whose memories dredge up only deep scars of shame.
Ershadi (father), whose filmography only goes back ten years, shows us a man of complexity, honor and stand-up courage without a hint of stereotyping. His intelligent good/bad-balanced character portrait brings to mind the qualities of mature Omar Sharif ("Monsieur Ibrahim").
Special mention goes to the two first-time actors, Ebrahimi and Mahmidzada, who debut with energetic poise and sustained appeal under Forster's guidance. Also to Alberto Iglesias for a varied, indigenous soundtrack that is, for its own qualities as well as for the film's benefit, mesmerizing and diverse.
Class distinctions, brotherhood, tradition and pride take turns as elemental ingredients of the finely crafted drama, but what you're most likely to take away from it, and find most memorable, is the level of emotion contained in the story of a man facing his demon and seizing the chance to rebuild his character and restore his self-respect. It's a difficult journey, strewn with rocks and road ruts, but you know it when you get there -- absolution for past errors in judgement.
~~ Jules Brenner